As the country hurtles towards the July 30 national elections, the security of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is increasingly becoming an issue, with authorities revealing at the weekend that they will take extraordinary measures to secure his safety.
This comes after Mnangagwa narrowly escaped an apparent assassination a week ago, when an explosion rocked a Zanu PF rally that he was addressing at White City Stadium in Bulawayo — killing two security aides and injuring scores of other people.
A government source who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said authorities had been “spooked” by the bomb blast as it had come “like a bolt from the blue”.
“The system was spooked by that explosion because it came like a bolt from the blue, as it happened very unexpectedly and when the country was experiencing its most peaceful run-up to elections since 1980.
“We are all still scratching our heads as to what really happened, hoping of course that the culprits will be brought to book soon, and that this also never happens again,” the source said.
Yesterday, the government announced that it would introduce advanced security measures, including the use of drones at political rallies, to protect Mnangagwa and secure the lives of people in attendance.
In addition to using high-tech security measures, about 45 000 police officers would also undergo advanced security training ahead of the crunch national elections.
“There will be increased vigilance and increased police visibility at all rallies. We will also ensure that we deploy more plain clothes police officers among the crowds and we shall be using drones to monitor activities at rallies and capture what is going on.
“We expect to have officially trained 45 000 officers ahead of the elections … our training is focusing on the management of harmonised elections, public order and disorder training, and human rights,” police senior assistant commissioner Erasmus Makodza said.
At the same time, analysts and security experts have also challenged the government to do more to protect Mnangagwa and his rivals ahead of this month’s polls.
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group, said although the government was revising Mnangagwa’s security, the measures that had been announced were not enough.
“In the circumstances, this (security protocol review) appears necessary. As for the utilisation of drones, while that might be appropriate, the most important thing to bear in mind is that security details require the requisite skills to maximise people’s safety.
“While in this era, nothing is foolproof … it appears those responsible for security (in Bulawayo) had allowed someone to pass into the VIP area with an explosive device,” Pigou told the Daily News.
Respected University of Zimbabwe politics expert, Eldred Masunugure, also said Mnangagwa deserved better security arrangements than had been seen to date.
“When there is a threat to the life of the first citizen, it calls for a thorough review of the security arrangements for him, including that heads should roll right now because you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Even those who are his (Mnangagwa’s) main rivals such as (MDC leader) Nelson Chamisa must be protected as well,” he said.
Outspoken Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) chairperson for Mashonaland Central Province, Sam Parirenyatwa, said ex-combatants were “very worried” about the seemingly lax security around Mnangagwa.
“We are very worried as war veterans and as stockholders about what happened to our president, more so as it is not the first time that an attempt has been made on the life of the president … hence we need to make sure that this does not happen again.
“We would rather prefer ourselves as war veterans to be around the president to protect him, rather than having the youngsters around him who have proven to be incompetent,” he said.
Mnangagwa escaped injury when an explosive device was detonated as VIPs left the stage at a Zanu PF campaign rally at White City Stadium on June 23.
He had just finished his address to thousands of party supporters then, at the venue of his penultimate humiliation last year by former president Robert Mugabe and his then influential wife Grace.
The explosive device, suspected to be a hand grenade, went off moments after Mnangagwa had just stepped off the stage — seriously injuring one of his deputies Kembo Mohadi and senior Cabinet minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, as well as a host of other people.
Both Mohadi and Muchinguri-Kashiri were later airlifted to South Africa for specialist treatment.
Two security aides died early last week from the injuries sustained from the attack.
On Friday, police arrested two men for the attempted assassination of Mnangagwa. The suspects are still to plead in court, and remain detained.
Mnangagwa, who has survived multiple attempts on his life, blamed the Bulawayo attack on the vanquished Generation 40 (G40) Zanu PF faction — which was involved in a war of attrition with him in the ruling party’s deadly succession wars.
“I don’t know whether it was one individual — I would think it is broader than one person. I would think this is a political action by some aggrieved persons,” he told the BBC last week.
Asked further whether he trusted Grace or not, he retorted: “On what basis would I trust someone who was used by a cabal to say things that had no basis?”
The annihilated G40 was, before the military intervention, locked in a bitter war with Mnangagwa and his supporters for the control of both Zanu PF and the country.
Mugabe has openly disclosed his bitterness with Mnangagwa and his administration following his ouster from power which was engineered by the military.
The military intervention, code-named Operation Restore Legacy triggered a chain of events which ended with the curtain falling on Mugabe on November 21 last year, when he resigned moments after Parliament had started proceedings to impeach him.
The operation saw the nonagenarian and his wife being placed under house arrest, while several Cabinet ministers linked to the G40 faction — which had coalesced around him and Grace — were also targeted.